Sputtering Cardinals' offense can't take advantage of Fitzgerald's talent
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona's offensive woes have limited the team's ability to take best advantage of one of the best wide receivers in the game.
A weak offensive line, erratic quarterback play and a largely ineffective running game have meant that defenses can zero in on Larry Fitzgerald more than ever, and he was already drawing plenty of attention. One of the game's best offensive players plays on one of its worst offenses.
An immensely proud player, Fitzgerald works hard to keep any personal frustration to himself. He knows how good he is, and that must make the offensive struggles of his team even harder to bear.
"I know what I am. I know who I am,'" he said after practice on Thursday. "That's not going to change based on week to week number-wise. That's never going to change. My focus is more so on just getting it done as a whole. That's really what I think of. I'll get my plays."
Fitzgerald, who holds virtually every Arizona career receiving record and has numbers over the recent past as good as anyone who has played the game, has topped 1,000 yards receiving in each season since coach Ken Whisenhunt took over in 2007.
Halfway through this season, with Arizona on a four-game losing streak, Fitzgerald has caught 45 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns. At this pace, he'd pass 1,000 again, but just barely.
His current total is bolstered significantly by his one outstanding performance, nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown against Philadelphia. That game, not coincidentally, is the only thing resembling a one-sided victory for the Cardinals this season, a 27-6 win in Week 3.
"You've got 16 games, 17 weeks of ball, I'll make some shots," Fitzgerald said. "There hasn't been many thus far but it's going to happen."
The week before that, he had one catch for 4 yards in a 20-18 upset of New England. That was Fitzgerald's worst individual game stat since he went without a catch in the seventh game of his rookie 2004 season. That marked the only time in Fitzgerald's 132 regular-season games that he did not catch a pass.
He did have another one-catch game against Dallas near the end of Arizona's miserable 5-11 2010 season, but at least it went for 26 yards.
The Cardinals (4-4) enter Sunday's game at Green Bay ranked 31st (out of 32 teams) in offense, 31st in rushing and 24th in passing. In the two games since quarterback Kevin Kolb was injured and replaced by John Skelton — losses to Minnesota (21-14) and San Francisco (24-3) — Fitzgerald has nine catches for 81 yards, with a long of 16.
Fitzgerald is long accustomed to defensive attention. He said he's seen nothing new this year.
"Same old, same old," he said. "Just confuse, throw a lot of looks at you, roll over the top. It's the same difference. Nothing special."
Against the Packers, Fitzgerald will face an unpredictable defensive scheme. The 49ers' defense simply overpowers, the Packers will look to confuse.
"They're all over the place," he said. "They'll have 11 guys and not one of them have their hand down sometimes. You never know where the blitzes are coming from. They're walking all around. It's controlled chaos at times, it seems like."
Big plays have been few and far between all season, and Fitzgerald said it's important not to force things, even though his ability and size often result in some circus catch over one or two defenders.
"You force it, you're going to get turnovers," Fitzgerald said, "so when you do have favorable looks, you have to capitalize. We've had favorable looks throughout the season, there's no question about it. We can go back over any game. We've had shots. From St. Louis to Seattle to Minnesota. All games we've had shots. We just haven't capitalized on them. It all comes down to execution. When we do have favorable looks, we've got to make it happen."
Whisenhunt goes to considerable lengths to minimize the ability of defenses to take Fitzgerald out of the game, moving the receiver to various spots in the formation.
"What you try to do is make it harder for defenses to double him," the coach said, "and the only way you can do that is putting him in the slot, motioning him, lining him up in the backfield and moving him out of there. There are a lot of creative things that you do to try to keep that from happening. But you know during the course of a game, you're going to get a matchup, and you've got to try to exploit that."
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